Thursday, September 12, 2013

Community Partnerships

Community Partnerships
It Takes a Community to Teach our Children
Bridging Cultures, Building Community

In August 2007, our school saw an increase of ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) students from 30 to 70.  This large increase presented both opportunities and challenges.  Namely, how could we quickly recruit community resources and build integrate and/or expand programs could help our students significantly achieve.  I have delineated below our school and ESOL Team’s approach to this challenge. In summary, it was a coordinated team (Community, Families, Teachers, and Programs) effort to help both our old and new students achieve.
Planning and action immediately commenced when it was identified that a statistically significant increased amount of refugee children would be attending our school. The entire community, International Referral Network (FIRN), library, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Baltimore County Community College (BCCC), Howard Community College (HCC) and the interpreters with the new families attended a meeting to receive information concerning refugee status.  This helped us to identify the diverse academic needs of our students.
Learning how to use a fork and spoon.
Shortly thereafter, new students arrived with their parents and interpreters, which required the ESOL Team to update rosters and to take them to their new teachers, helping them order lunches, pairing them up with partners, showing them the bathrooms, finding picture dictionaries, and changing daily schedules to meet the needs of our new incomers.
During our first days, I was paged to the principal’s office.  Fortunately, our principal was meeting with the president of FIRN (Foreign-born Information-Referral Network).  We took this opportunity to help us better focus resources to the task at hand.  Further, we discussed many strategies and tactics as to how we could provide enrichment activities to build oral language skills since the 30 plus students had interrupted schooling and some students had little to no schooling.
The ESOL Team also met with FIRN, county school personal, ESOL counselor, IRC, interpreters and the case manager to learn about the interrupted schooling to begin the planning for the Learning English After School Program (L.E.A.P.). The ESOL team began planning reading and math activities to enrich oral language development.
More specifically, we began with the HCPSS ESOL English Language Proficiency Standards MDK-12 to direct our planning: “With one word-responses or short phrases, and sentences, students will be able to apply critical thinking skills and academic language functions to define math, reading and content vocabulary,” by using phonics and math board games and reading material. And to “Use simple present, and present progressive forms of common. (i.e., to be, to have, and to walk and simple past tense of regular verbs) Use appropriate word order.  (i.e., subject- verb-object when speaking in short sentences and in memorized patterns).
Additionally, we met with the school’s reading, math support and classroom teachers to learn of new and additional resources. We received math and grammar board and card games, math and picture cards, art supplies, manipulatives, and picture books with props.  Since the 3rd-5th graders were not in school for the 2nd grade curriculum objective “My Community,” we took the 2nd grade curriculum to help fill in the learning gap for the students to learn how to use geographic concepts and processes to understand location and its relationship in their community. This helped prepare the 4th and 5th graders with interrupted schooling about geographic concepts, locations and physical features of Maryland as they were learning about Colonial America. We utilized the book, “From Here to There,” by Margery Cuyler, and each week the students added to their hand-crafted illustrated books and learned about their names, streets, town, city, state of Maryland and it’s physical features, country, continent and their universe. 

ESOL Team welcomes new Chin family into the community.
In addition to FIRN training their volunteers, we invited the FIRN volunteers to come to our school before the program began, to review the objectives, the materials and the syllabus, and to ask/answer any questions they may have.  The first day of the program, ESOL held a small orientation for the children with the tutors and administration to explain the objectives of the program and to go over the rules and the consequences if they chose not to follow the rules.
The program ran in two-eight week sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. Session one (1) before the Winter break and Session two (2) beginning the first week in February. The 1.5 hour sessions were divided into 3 parts. The first 30 minutes was focused on completing homework, and the last hour was devoted to reading then math activities. The students were divided by grade levels with 5-8 students per two tutors. The PTA (Parent and Teacher Association) provided snacks and it was left up to the tutors when snack was provided and interpreters called parents to arrange rides home.
At the end of each session, school surveys were given to the tutors in order to determine how to better the program for the following session and FIRN surveys were also given to the parents. When the parents met as a group, the interpreter read the questionnaire as the parents answered the questions.  Items learned from these sessions were integrated into L.E.A.P. to enhance it as it progressed forward.
How and what did our team and students accomplish?  In June, the students were tested.  Scores measurably increased on their monthly reading benchmarks and the reading and math quarterly assessments and their LAS (Language Assessment Systems) assessments. 
In summary, our community team collaborated together to ensure that the academic needs of our new students were met in order to improve their scores and integration into our community.  As evidenced by their scores and feedback by their families and teachers, we believe that their first steps into the community were successfully started.  
Celebrating the Chin New Year!
To better understand some of FIRN’s community programs, we have provided expanded information on each of their outreaches:
In 2003, FIRN and the HCPSS entered into a formal educational partnership wherein both parties collaborated to pilot an innovative after-school program targeted at ELL students in the County known as Club L.E.A.P. (Learning English After-school Program).
Expecting continued dramatic increases in ESOL student enrollment, FIRN and HCPSS undertook this program to help these students, many of whom are among Howard County’s academically-at-risk student population because of their language barriers.  It was started in 3 schools with a half a dozen or so volunteers.  Over the past 4 years, this partnership has evolved in both its breadth and depth of service.  Each summer, FIRN, with the help of the members of the HCPSS Partnership Committee, meet with school administrators and other stakeholders to plan that year’s Club L.E.A.P. The HCPSS Partnership Committee is the oversight entity for this partnership.  The members of this committee include HCPSS Offices of International Student, Family International, Student, Family and Community Services., ESOL and World Languages, Hispanic Achievement Liaisons and 21st Century Bridges Community Learning Center. Through the dedication and commitment and recognizing the need to help this under-served ESOL population, this program has seen tremendous growth.  This 2008-2009 academic year, the program is implemented in 11 schools with 52 volunteer tutors, serving 100 ESOL students.
The county clothing drive.
Working with HCPSS, FIRN provides trained, culturally competent volunteer tutors in Club LEAP, offering the ELLs a variety of enrichment activities in a safe school environment to support the goals and objectives of the school system.  Many of FIRN’s volunteers are retired teachers, professionals, multi-cultural and multi-lingual high school and college students, international students and others in the community who feel a special connection to the international community in which we live. 
It takes a community to teach our children!

FIRN is a nonprofit organization in Howard County, Maryland that empowers immigrants, refugees, asylees and other foreign-born individuals by helping them to access community resources and opportunities. Read more:

Community Partnership with a local company and school:

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